Sunday, May 27, 2007
"NASCAR Now" Rocks "The Spot"
Sometimes, as the long NASCAR season begins to grind on those associated with it, things become funny a lot easier. TV people have a warped sense of humor, and the things that just "happen" along the TV trail make it all the more fun. This week at Lowes Motor Speedway, ESPN had a long trail of people standing in one line. They were not giving things away for free. It was not the line for the restroom.
The line included news reporters, NEXTEL Cup drivers, newspaper columnists, feature reporters, pit crew members, and Busch Series drivers. They were all in line to appear on NASCAR Now, ESPN2's daily racing program. The line was very straight and orderly because there was only one location where everyone had to go. One small round circle that everyone who appeared on this show all week had to stand in. That place became known as "the spot."
Halfway down pit road, twenty feet or so behind the pit wall was the single "cable drop" that ESPN used for every driver interview, every news report, and everything else that required Bristol, CT to communicate with Concord, NC. It was a hilarious keystone cop act that often times required the quick change artistry of Houdini to move one person off "the spot," and another person in.
According to my sources on the ground, ESPN was so "thrifty" that they even used the same microphone for every liveshot all week. One "spot" person would go "off-camera," and while the Bristol-based host was speaking, the new "spot" person would get their earpiece hooked-up and grab the mic. Erik Kuselias would say, "and we go back to the track for..." and the next person would start talking.
After a while, it became more fun to watch the action behind the person speaking than to listen to what they were saying. Viewers got to watch Legend Cars racing, caution flags waving, and lots of people on cell phones waving hello. Sunday, on the one hour edition of NASCAR Now, viewers got to watch laughing crew members negotiate their way around the long line of "spot" people waiting to appear on the show.
Marty Smith showed us empty pit wagons ready for the race, Mike Massaro showed us military men in camouflage, and then Tony Raines showed us security guards in golf carts. "The spot" was suddenly a happening place. Shannon Spake stepped-in and showed us that pit tours had started and the first officials were trickling onto pit road. Spake had been in "the spot" so many times this week she might have been dizzy by now. "The spot" can do that to people.
That led to NASCAR Now's "Mr. Obvious," Tim Cowlishaw in "the spot." Behind him, the first teams were peeling the covers off the pit wagons and laying out equipment. Cowlishaw appears on this program only to add "opinion" to the mix by doing his best Around The Horn impression. As Cowlishaw made his race pick, the crews were testing equipment and marking off their areas. As I watched them, I never heard a word Cowlishaw said. "The spot" has good things about it as well.
His report marked the end of "the spot," and added to the legend that ESPN is so dysfunctional they could allow all their on-camera interviews at a huge speedway to originate from the exact...same...spot. In TV land, when you have multiple reporters that have to share the same location, you simply "pan" the camera to the left or right a bit to "create" a new background for the next reporter. Its called "re-framing" the liveshot. I learned that in high school in the 1970's.
What made this production problem worse was the fact that ESPN in Bristol has a new High Definition TV studio and a high dollar NASCAR Now set. The contrast between the high-tech studio and the liveshot participants standing amid the noise and trash of pit road was glaring. The drivers being interviewed actually had a crew member headset "placed" on their heads so they could hear over the car and crowd noise.
Perhaps, the "spot effect" could have been softened a bit if someone...anyone had taken thirty seconds to "re-frame" this shot with other background scenery even once during this three day period. In a way, it kind of showed the low level of respect that the Bristol production team has for the "NASCAR gang." No one took a second to whisper into the cameraman's headset "why don't we re-frame that liveshot?" In other words, unless it is "our studio" at "our headquarters," we really don't care. My congratulations to all in Bristol, you certainly convinced us you don't.
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